Gender diversity and inclusivity must underpin company culture, strategy and practices – SAICE

Gender diversity and inclusivity must underpin company culture, strategy and practices – SAICE

4 March 2021: The advancement of gender inclusivity and diversity featured as the prominent theme at the recent South African Institution of Civil Engineering’s (SAICE) National Presidential Address.

“Gender inclusivity is not about being accepted. It is about being respected. Gender equality and empowerment is not only a fundamental human right but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world,” SAICE President Vishal Krishandutt advocated.

“The issue regarding the subordination of women has long been a burning issue with a historical footprint strongly underpinned by patriarchy, which continues to be deeply seated in today’s workplace and centred around male domination.”

One of the fundamental aspects of inequality in the workplace, he added, is the effect of the glass ceiling. Krishandutt highlighted research undertaken in 2019 to understand the impact of the glass ceiling on women engineers in South African consulting firms.

The research revealed that, from the 114 who participated in the survey, about 74% believed that vital decisions were still being made by men outside of formal meetings; around 63% believed that the ‘old boys clubs’ in the organisation limited opportunities for women to advance to management positions; 72% felt that they had to outperform men to be promoted to senior positions; and around 66% were of the view that the company structure and culture were centered around male engineers.

To further support this, Krishandutt pointed to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2020, which highlights that on average, while labour participation of women is relatively high in most Sub-Saharan African countries; senior roles are preponderantly still held by men. Interestingly, a previous WEF report also indicated that the pay difference between males and females across the globe may only come to an end in the year 2186. “That is 165 years away and is quite disturbing. Think about it, not even our great grand children will be born to witness this.”

“For many of us, these results are not surprising. We need to collaborate and work towards transforming mindsets that understand that gender diversity and inclusivity is of utmost importance towards creating a more sustainable working environment and world.

Krishandutt noted the need for a sustainable talent pipeline and recruitment process, which understands that an inclusive and diverse company culture are talent magnets for modern employees.

Research undertaken by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that of the companies that adopted inclusivity and diversity practices, 71% reported that these have had a positive impact on their recruitment efforts; 39% said that practices had led to increased levels of female applicants; 32% indicated increased levels of female graduate hires; 27% reported increased levels of female experienced hires, and 24% reported increased levels of external female leadership.

“The demand for female talent will continue to rise over time. It is important to not only attract female talent, but also to be able to develop, engage, progress and retain female talent once inside the organisation. When presented with choices on what female candidates consider makes an employer most attractive, the three options that emerge as shining stars are opportunities for career progression; competitive wages and other financial benefits; and flexible working arrangements and a culture of work-life balance.”

Krishandutt also stressed that organisations must hold their management accountable for the implementation of diversity and inclusive strategies, and that these key elements must also be aligned to business and growth strategies in order to transform not just the engineering sector in South Africa but the public and private sectors overall.

Noluthando Zitha, a site engineer and 2020 SAICE Wits Student Chapter Chairperson, also a keynote speaker at the SAICE Presidential Address, stressed the importance of the engineering environment or any work environment reflecting a workspace in which young people from diverse backgrounds, including females, could also easily relate to.  She stressed the need for strong mentorship which transformed the workplace into an enabling environment with strong role models.

Meanwhile, SAICE CEO Vishaal Lutchman highlighted the importance and responsibility that civil engineers have to inspire and promote the concept of nation building in contributing to South Africa’s infrastructure development in a socially just, environmentally sensitive and economically robust manner – growing forward together.

He discussed several critical issues including re-vitalising South Africa’s public and private sectors; investing in institutions and human capacity; understanding the role of the private sector geared towards financial sustainability and growth; eradicating corruption in South Africa; as well as the lack of regard for science and technology skills, which has led to despondency in the fraternity.

“We have to remember and realize the role of the designer and the scientist, the academic advisor, the planner and the constructor. We must redefine our purpose and linked to this, is the extreme and desperate need for engineering skills in the country.”

Further, Lutchman stressed the importance of thinking as a collective. “When we start thinking society, we will start to move away from the transactional type thinking of where we want something from somebody, or somebody wants something from us. We need to think society in the way we transform how are we going to do our jobs on a daily basis, seek to always help others and improve capacity.”

“And our strength lies in our diversity. It is important that we work hard to appreciate the value proposition that we have lying in front of us, which is our diversity and to make the best of the developmental state.”